December 03, 2020

By Lapacazo Sandoval

Contributing Writer


Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley (“12 Years A Slave”) swears that “I talk too much” but I disagree, vehemently. Clearly, he has the gift of gab, he’s a straight-up storyteller and I can listen for hours, curled up beside the proverbial hearth because there is great passion in his stories, and where there is passion there is drama. And where there is drama, well that’s where great storytelling lives.

Three years ago Ridley pitched “The Other History of the DC Universe,” a five-part comic book series that looks at pivotal events through the sharp eyes of  several nonwhite DC heroes and he knew that Black Lightning would be at its center.  A comic book aficionado, he was introduced to that hero in 1977, when he was just 11 years old.

Before stepping up the DC challenge, Ridley’s career includes writing stints for television and film, which earned him an Academy Award in 2014 for Best Adapted Screenplay for  “12 Years a Slave.”

The first issue of “The Other History of the DC Universe” was released on Tuesday (11/23/2020) is striking images are drawn by Giuseppe “Cammo” Camuncoli, Andrea Cucchi, and colorist José Villarrubia, with covers by Camuncoli (with Marco Mastrazzo) and Jamal Campbell (Far Sector, Naomi).

Ridley is no stranger to comic book storytelling at DC, having written “The Authority: Human on the Inside” (with artist Ben Oliver) in 2004 in addition to an issue of the 2005 “The Razor’s Edge: Warblade” series. Ridley also collaborated with artist Georges Jeanty on the limited series “The American Way” (2006) and its sequel, “The American Way: Those Above and Those Below” (2017). On September 29, the “Batman: The Joker War Zone” anthology will feature a short story by Ridley, with art by Olivier Coipel.

This series promises to be an experience unlike any other. DC fans may think they know the history of the DC Universe, but its true history is far more complex. “The Other History of the DC Universe” isn’t about saving the world—it’s about having the strength to simply be who you are.

“The Other History of the DC Universe” debuts at open and operating comic book stores and participating digital retailers on Tuesday, November 24. New issues will ship bimonthly, and the series will carry DC’s Black Label content descriptor, with content appropriate for readers ages 17+.

The story begins with Jefferson Pierce revealing his inner thoughts, bearing his soul, and taking it further into his most private thoughts where we learn about his family and see him become Black Lightning. Some of DC’s other champions, including John Stewart, who became a Green Lantern, in 1971 and is the company’s first Black superhero and the original Justice League, an organization that was packed-to-the-gills with white men will also appear in future episodes.  

In a Zoom interview last week, we had an opportunity to speak with John Ridley about his newest grahic novel — “The Other History of the DC Universe.”

L.A. WATTS TIMES: Growing up, I confess, that I was not a comic book fan. I felt uncomfortable with the white superheroes. What made you connect with Jefferson Pierce? Wait. I will like to say, if I started with the Black Lighting, then — maybe I would have been a fan.

JOHN RIDLEY: I understand.

LAWT: Gosh, I forgot to ask the obvious question. I know the answer (I think) but were you a comic book fan growing up?

JR: I was.

LAWT: Do you remember Black Lightning #1 (Volume 1) with a cover in April 1977? According to my research it was published on January 4, 1977.

JR: The first cover that blew my mind, I mean I loved comics. I read comics but I remember the first that I saw Black Lighting as a hero. When I went to the comic book shop, in the mid [19]70’s and I was young but I knew how it worked. I had my pull bag ready. I remember like it was yesterday. I remember when Black Lightning came out. I remember pulling that issue out of this brown paper bag and being blown away. Here is a hero that looked like me. And the story wasn’t just about fighting super villains — it was about fighting for your community, fighting to make sure students got the quality education they deserved. I still have that very first issue.

LAWT: I’m dyslexic and I want to share that the way “The Other History of the DC Universe” is laid out made it so easy to read, that I read it twice.

JR: That’s nice to hear.


LAWT: And the images are burned in my brain.

JR: The images are by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Andrea Cucchi and it was painted by José Villarrubia.

LAWT: What didn’t you want in creating ‘The Other History of the DC Universe’?

JR: I didn’t want to do a made-up history of the DC universe. I wanted a fan to look at moments and go, gosh I remember that. Here’s some different context. What are certain moments that a fan will see and go, Oh my God, I remember that? Here’s Black Lighting giving an oral history saying that I remember that moment too but maybe [I remember it] a little bit different than you.

LAWT: Did you want to shake up the DC universe?

JR: [No] I want to honor the canon, but at the same time, I am expressing a very particular version of these heroes. I wanted them as two men of color to have a moment just as men, particularly as Black men, where they engaged. They share tragedy and loss. And how they felt about each other was maybe different from the reality of where their relationship needed to be.

LAWT: Jefferson also very strong opinions about Superman. How did DC feel about that? Any pushback?

JR: No, because it is not about Superman being a bad guy. We visit Superman and other heroes through the lens of these characters. Even though Superman is an immigrant and truly an alien, his passport is stamped because of the way he looks and because of the way he presents himself.

All of these characters have to reconcile how they view other people and whether they’re being fair. If I made Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman bad people, I’m sure we would have had pushback. But it was all fair game if it came from a perspective that felt real and grounded.

LAWT: I am curious. How did this project initially come together? Like what was that pitch like? Oh, to be a fly in that room!

JR: I was very nervous when I pitched it. It was a kind of arrogance, maybe, to come back and say, I want to look at your entire history and shift the lens a little and have some real talk about some of these characters.

To their credit, DC saw the value. This was long before the current reckoning on race and representation.

LAWT: Right, this was three years in the making.

JR: Correct. When you’re dealing with stories about race, otherization, people outside of the prevailing culture, unfortunately, it’s going to be relevant almost any time it comes out.

LAWT: Did anything influence how you choose to tell this story?

JR: I loved listening to stories that my father used to tell me about growing up. My parents were all about service. My mother was a teacher, doctor, and my father was in the air service but there were moments when they were treated just as Black people. 

LAWT: Powerful. I understand what you just said down to my bones.

JR: If you have an ounce of empathy in you, when you can hear that pain, joy, that heartbreak, and the inspiration that comes from an individual, those stories, again, if you have an ounce of empathy in you, even the slightest capacity to see yourself in others, the stories mean much more.

LAWT: It’s easy to tell, John, that you are appreciative of being able to create ‘The Other History of the DC Universe.’

JR: It’s any fan's biggest wish fulfillment. Honestly, I’ve been blessed with my career. I’ve worked in a lot of spaces. Are you kidding? To be able to write graphic novels, to be able to remember your childhood self, buying a Black Lighting story and now you get to tell a Black Lighting story, I can’t say in enough words how special this is. I understand the value of this real estate. I understand where it lives now in the world we [now] live in.

LAWT: I love the way it was laid out! Stunning. Stunning. Stunning.

JR: When I was writing it Giuseppe Camuncoli came in. He would take a page and look at it, and say we actually need two pages for this. The project would go out at 30 pages and come back at 40 pages and DC never said no. To your point, and looking at some of these heroes and feeling something that was not intended but maybe it’s not so much about intention but it’s about execution.

LAWT: I feel you on Superman. Please, continue.

JR: Yes, it is a white man with unlimited power, and even though he is an immigrant and an alien.

LAWT: True, old boy is a true alien … sorry, please Johh, continue.

JR: He’s treated as a savior because of the way he represents. Growing up I do remember how I felt when I saw Jefferson Pierce and how I felt about Mal Duncon [Malcolm Arnold ‘Mal’ Duncan, currently known as Vox]. Year after year, I remember thinking that they didn’t get Mal. I do believe and I want to be careful how I say this because they know that I am a Black man that I thought that they did a pretty good job with Karen Beecher [aka Bumblebee]. That she was brilliant. That she was willing to go out and stand up for Mal in ways that Mal would not stand up for himself.

LAWT: What about Vixen.

JR: There was no way that I could not have Vixen in this series, and that her appearances were not a run-and-done but there is an arch to it.

LAWT: Right. There is.

JR: Where Jefferson Pierce being myopic and underestimating her and I thought that was important. It wasn’t just characters of color railing against the prevailing culture all the time. Jefferson is a Black man of a certain age, at had a certain concept of what she could or couldn’t do. Next thing you see her with Superman, she’s big time.

LAWT: Who is your favorite DC character?

JR: My all-time favorite character is the Question.

LAWT: Really? The Question [Created by Steve Ditk]. Why?

JR: Great question.

LAWT: Thank you.

JR: You are welcome. It was in the mid-1980s when that series came out. The big series was Watchman and Dark Knight, huge but for my money, literally and figuratively, a series that embraced the gray as The Question. He had no real powers.

LAWT: Oh my.

JR: In the first issue he is beaten to a pulp by Lady Shiva. He was shot in the head, dumped into the river — that’s your hero?

LAWT: I’m asking this in my head for sure.

JR: It was grey. You can have all the superhero powers in the world but that does not mean that things are going to work out. [The Question] was a mess. He was in love with his ex who became the wife of an alcoholic Mayor. It was just an amazing series.

LAWT: Ok, John Ridley. On this, I will take your word.

JR: If you look at my work going forward ‘American Crime’ …

LAWT: Brillant, chilling, and binge-worthy.

JR: The things that I am known for are all very gray. They don’t necessarily have happy ends.

LAWT: Basically, life.

JR: I just remember reading The Question and asking myself, ‘ who is this written for’?

LAWT: You and maybe four more, I am guessing?

JR: This is written for three people. But I appreciate storytelling or artistry or entertainment that doesn’t feel like mass entertainment. [I like stories] that feel like this is written for maybe five people. 

LAWT: What’s your hope for “The Other History of the DC Universe”?

JR: My hope that “The Other History of the DC Universe” is the biggest selling graphic novel series, in the history of graphic novels series but my other bigger hope is that there are five or six of the right people, that read it and find this to be an interesting series, and that’s the way I felt about The Question.

LAWT:  You have me intrigued about this character, now — The Question, the man without superpowers.

[The character was acquired by DC Comics in the early 1980s and incorporated into the DC Universe. The Question's secret identity was originally Vic Sage].

JR: I love that he’s different from Batman or Superman. The Question has been passed on a little bit. The character Vic Sage dies. I love that he’s mortal. When you remove false repative from storytelling, I don’t care what anyone says, the stories are better. I wish with all heroes everywhere no disrespect to Bruce [Wayne], no disrespect to Clark [Kent]. I will say this for example, and I want to be careful of how I say this. I don’t want to say this and it reflects being that it happened to a female character, I am not saying that. Please put that in your reporting … but when Supergirl died, I remember that feeling of, ‘Oh, my God, are you kidding me’? When Barry Allen [aka The Flash] died, this will help take it away from it just being about a female character, I was still, like ‘Oh my God, are you kidding me?’ I understand. Later they come back.

LAWT: Moneymakers both.

JR: Yes, a billion-dollar each but the pain and the loss [is real]. So, part of the reason that I love The Question is that [he] endures, regardless of who’s behind that mask. You can’t define me. I will define who I am. You can question and I will answer.

All I can say without tipping too much is that you may see an iteration of The Question in some of my writing down the road.

LAWT: Oh, John Ridley such a grey and perfect end of an amazing conversation.

At the time of filing the CW canceled the series “Black Lightning” after four-seasons.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

For more information on this series and the World’s Greatest Super Heroes, visit the website at, or follow on social media @DCComics and @thedcnation.

Category: Arts & Culture